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Ulama: Shii

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The Oxford Dictionary of Islam What is This? Covers the religious, political, and social spheres of global Islam in the modern world

    Ulama: Shii

    Professional although unofficial clergy of Shii Islam. Most important center for education is in Qom, Iran. Historically, ulama have exercised the right of ijtihad (independent reasoning) in interpretation of Islamic law, setting the stage for engagement in social issues. They are believed to serve as agents of the Hidden Imam during his absence, lending them religious authority and placing them in a position to care for the poor, infirm, widows, and orphans and to supervise religious and charitable expenditures. This relationship has provided the basis for social mobilization and collective protest, both socially and politically, as well as financial autonomy. Ulama became an important social force in Iran during the European imperial era in the nineteenth century. They served as major critics of the Qajar shahs on foreign concessions, tax policies, loans, territorial losses, and autocratic conduct—charges that were later leveled against Reza Shah Pahlavi . Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini taught that clergy are appropriate rulers in order to ensure implementation of Islamic law. The centralization of power in the hands of Shii ulama since the Iranian revolution is unprecedented in history.

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